Losing track of time in Burgundy…

Burgundy

“What day is it?” asked Pooh. 

“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.

“My favorite day,” said Pooh.” 

 A.A. Milne

 

I love this quote. I have lost all sense of time and day here in Burgundy. I was shocked to learn today was Friday. I wake, I go, I eat, I sleep. And each day feels like my favorite.

 

Coming off another long day, my body is aching from contorting it every which way to drag hoses, wash bins, maneuver pallet jacks, dig out large vats of fermented whole clusters to go to press (which then of course must be cleaned). I have never felt so strong and so weak in all my life. So young and so old. I am sometimes amazed that I keep getting out of bed each day and endure another. My old self was more of a wuss.

 

But the truth is… once I start, I cannot stop. It’s fortifying. Primal almost. Using your body to the fullest, grunting, wincing, pushing, pulling, getting filthy, bruised, bedraggled. Then…turning on a hose, and washing it all down the drain. Not the wine of course. But, the mess you made to achieve beauty.

 

Before this harvest, I knew I had mental fortitude, but physically it has been a while since I genuinely pushed myself to any great lengths– beyond that which I could visualize. Nearly 9 years has passed since I ran a marathon, and that may have been the last time I surprised myself. Talking with the two other female interns here at Dujac, we shared how empowering (and liberating) it is to be part of the winemaking process. We don’t bother shaving or sprucing up. We just get up and do everything the guys are doing. There are no limits. And we are all learning that we are every bit as capable– with even the tasks that seems impossible at first. But we keep at it, learn the techniques and move on to the next job.

 

There is never a lack of things to do. The learning curve is steep, and I have come to respond almost involuntarily, as I scan the room and look for something to wash, someone to help, a hose that needs rolling up, chalkboards needing updates, a tank that needs a foot stomp (I can’t say my feet have ever been so wonderfully exfoliated). We begin each day tasting through each vat, and listening carefully as Jacques, Jeremy and Alec discuss what they need (remontage, pigeage, pressing). It’s at this moment one cannot deny that it is more than science. This is art.

 

We take a break at lunch to refuel, connect with one another and sip wines that are not considered ‘lunch wines’ in my world. The Seysses family has been beyond generous in edifying our experience with twice daily blinds at lunch and dinner. Yesterday , we had a 4 wine vertical of Clos Saint-Denis, since we were pressing it that afternoon: 2006 (quite fresh, forward cherry notes, beginning tertiary dimension), 2003 (you can taste/feel the warmth of this vintage), 2004 (quite elegant and pretty right now, more herbaceous but well balanced fruit) and 1999 (really high acidity met with round, ample fruit). Today, we were pressing Clos de la Roche, so we were fortunate to venture into another vintage comparison: 2011 (wow- this wine from Dujac was in such a charming place; it may have been my favorite today), 2008 (just beginning to show its age, there was still quite a bit of forward fruit and intensity), 1999 (really round, chewy tannins, generous fruit, higher acidity like the Clos Saint-Denis from 99).

 

I couldn’t be more thankful for the people I have met through this experience– not the least of which my fellow interns. Each brings with her/him such different experiences and unique perspectives. Two are from the southern hemisphere: Cooper Davis-Draper from Australia…but kind of Canadian–it’s complicated) and Willie Trew from New Zealand. This isn’t Willie’s first rodeo in Burgundy. With a couple harvests at DeMontille under his belt, he has been a great leader here. As for Cooper, he has worked a few harvests around the world as well and has proven to be incredibly patient and helpful with newbies like myself. Marie Charlemagne is a total badass who makes wine up in Champagne for her family’s domaine. She’s a total boss. And then there is Alex Karosis, a somm at Legacy Records in New York. Her insights, talented palate and experience tasting so many baller wines for her work has been an incredible add to our table conversation. And, of course, our actual chef! Tom Stafford came here from Napa to prepare our meals. Asking him the menu ahead of time is what keeps me motivated through the day.

 

Language fails when trying to articulate the energy felt during harvest. There is a sense of communion from the moment we wake up and begin tackling the day’s tasks on through the final meal together and even afterward when we retreat to our ‘annex’, play music, chat, dance, laugh, share night caps or cups of chamomile on our ‘sober’ nights, which have come to basically mean we don’t drink outside of lunch and dinner, but beer doesn’t count.

 

On that topic… Who knew it would take my coming to Burgundy– the mecca of fine wine– to finally get this Wisconsin-born gal to drink some beer? But that’s what it took. Beer is kind of a thing in the wine industry. Whether after a long day of trade tastings, competitions or super hot mid-summer bbq’s, it seems that’s what wine drinkers crave. I never understood this.  Each and every occasion I heard crown caps cracked, I would pass and gross others out by having more wine, cocktails or water. But there is one other occasion that lures our kind to those suds… making wine all day. Somehow, some way, there is just something about pure exhaustion that makes a grainy, light, crisp, lemony mediocre Kronenbourg taste really fricken amazing. Just one. That’s all.

 

Huddled under the covers, as I listen to rain fall outside, I am eagerly anticipating the Boeuf Bourguignon on the menu tonight. I dug out 2 vats today (one of which was 70hL tank of whole fermented clusters), cleaned a press, gave some tanks remontage that needed it and generally assisted with a half dozen other tasks. I am so hungry. And so happy. It is a gift to have an opportunity to use my body fully, to nourish it, to commune with others day after day, sleep and get up with the sun.

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Just Being… in Burgundy.

Burgundy, french wine, French Wine Travel, Uncategorized

“I take pleasure in my transformations. I look quiet and consistent, but few know how many women there are in me.” – Anais Nin

It’s a nearly perfect summer evening. The patio door is open wide, the dronesome sound of cicadas compete with one another, punctuated by occasional abrupt silences they uniformly feel compelled to observe. The light is throwing that ever so hushed tone that tells one the season is coming to an end. The harvest is upon us. I drink it in, the view and a stunning glass of Collier Saumur Chenin, as I try to imagine what’s to come in just a matter of hours.

I have only had the opportunity to play at harvest here an there for days at a time– some more hands on than others. Never have I followed it from start to finish at one winery, though. Never could I have imagined ten years ago, a fledgling student in the world of wine, that I would find myself booking train tickets from Paris to Morey-Saint-Denis via Dijon and Gevrey-Chambertin to work a full harvest season at Domaine Dujac.

But… here I am.

To articulate this moment– the ‘just before’ kind of moment I hold inside like a long, meditative breath– well, words come and go, as the unwritten and unknowable are perhaps the most complex (and invigorating) of all the emotions we get to feel. The imagination is so rich. It naturally reaches for any data it can– the times I have stepped on Burgundy soil, the countless bottles I have treasured, the  maps I have pored, the harvests I have experienced however brief and the thousands of hours of study that have given me a general idea what goes on from vine to barrel. Though, if I have learned anything, it’s that winemakers are like snowflakes– each one’s approach different than the next, however nuanced. But none of it will prepare me for what I will take in… I am sure of that. And I embrace these moments in life where mystery has an actual pulse and they really make me feel I am living when I relish them.

These punctuated points in my life have come to signal growth and evolution in a very short time–a space where I just know I am hovering on the threshold of becoming more than I am as myself today. I felt this way the night before my mom died when I was ten years old. I felt this the day before I moved to New York City in 2007– alone without any contacts, and my only plan was to live at the YMCA in Greenpoint until I found something more permanent. I felt it the day before my marriage. And again before my marriage ended. All these moments had my heart beating hard with nervous anticipation– in full awareness of not knowing what might come next. All involved courage. None were without fear. I had no idea who I could be on the other side. But, as Nin so beautifully explains, it’s less a ‘new’ self on the other side, rather an adding to– a manifestation of old and new selves. A sentiment of multitudes that echo Whitman.

Perhaps a harvest doesn’t (or shouldn’t) compare to some of these other life-changing transitions. But the same sensations are stirring (perhaps with a bit more excitement balancing my nerves), and I realize that this is more than just a little adventure. It has recently occurred to me that I am standing in and staring at my mid-life crisis. Really! I didn’t quite recognize it for what it was at first. Images of ridiculous sports cars, Las Vegas benders and twenty-something lovers on the side seemed to fit the symptoms fit for a mid-life crisis diagnosis. But that’s not really what it’s about at all. In fact, seems a lot of friends in their thirties and forties are in a similar place. We wake up one day and mortality is a real thing. It sets in for the first time, really. We take stock. We ask ourselves the hard questions. We answer them with honesty. We contemplate choices–those that are safe with those that involve risk.

My reasons for going have taken so many shapes over the past couple years. When I first learned this was a possibility, I wanted the challenge– what might it feel like to rise each morning and live as a vigneron? Could I do it? Could this be a path for me? My life took turns I rather didn’t anticipate shortly thereafter, and this opportunity began to feel like an escape– a brief interlude from day-to-day real life to answer questions about who I am, what I want, where I am going. I am grateful, though, the past couple years brought a lot of self work, and I have answered many of the unsettling questions, and I can go now with a whole heart, clearer mind and really very few expectations. Just a willingness to do the best I can, ask a ton of questions and revel in being part of it all. Just being.

To press pause, just for a few weeks. To live differently. People talk a lot about being ‘present’ as the anecdote to daily anxiety, our frenetic lives. It’s hard to be present in the grind, which is so filled with ruminations on yesterday and worries and plans for tomorrow. I’d like to stop that churning for a bit and have my mind and my body in the same place, doing the same things, at the same time. Rising with the sun and closing each day with a few well earned delicious aches in my bones. To reflect on what it means to create. To relish curiosity. To savor learning. These are the reasons I am so eager to board that plane this Friday to France, where I have always felt a little closer to myself.

euro scribbles: so this is burgundy, part 2.

Burgundy, french wine, French Wine Travel, travel, Wine Education

2012 has not been easy for Burgundians. They need just about every gulp of sun they can get, and this vintage has just been cool, rainy and unforgiving. That was the repeated theme at nearly every winery we visited. But that does not mean all is lost. Those who know what’s up just have to work for it a little harder is all. And if all else fails, just go with Grand Cru from mediocre years. As Jeremy Seysses of Dujac said, no matter how much you want to take all the credit, mother nature just makes it looks so easy on a consistent basis, whether the vintage is superb or somber.

Due to this trying vintage, our visit with Mikulski (Meursault) was cancelled the day following Dujac. If the weather demanded it so, the vigneron needed to respond. It was a very busy time in Burgundy, as most winemakers here remarked. Just driving down the route des vins, I was amazed to see how many more workers were in the vineyards compared to other regions we had been. Whether plowing or pruning, they were busy bees, trying to do whatever it took to make good of a dire situation.

Still, you ask any one of them, and that’s they beauty of Burgundy. Regardless of what you do, mother nature has her fingerprint on everything here– you will taste the work that was done in the 2012’s. Here, wine is so transparently scribed in each sip. You will sense their long, chill days and the rain. You will either prefer it or not. She doesn’t care.

In lieu of Mikulski, Javillier graciously offered their time, not only to us but to what appeared to be a tribe of misfits. Four separate groups huddled in the damp cellar to taste some magnificent Meursault as well as some other cuvees from various neighboring regions. Meursault is oft noted for its more pregnant style of Chardonnay. Some can overdo the oak a bit perhaps, but if it is done well, they can be some of the best in the land. Javillier was one of those producers.

Before I press onward, I feel I need to describe Patrick Javillier. He might have been my favorite personality sketch I will recall from this trip. In short, he was a sweet, humble man, perhaps 60 years in age and the ultimate, stereotypical Burgundian winemaker I have always imagined: tussled hair, flurried half-sentences, one moment he was grabbing glasses, the next taking a bite of baguette. He appeared a genius with calculations of yeast additions or barrel treatments racing through his big brain. He scurried around seemingly frazzled, when I noticed how lab-like his winery entry felt. Bare bones, concrete floor and definitely like a science lab. I was waiting for stickers of flower power to appear. Or perhaps Austin Power.

Sure enough, as he explained his estate, we learned that he began in 1974. Yes, now that made sense. It also made me like him already. I can’t explain why that ambience resonates with me. But it does. He then took is basket of glasses down to the cellar and began the show of the just bottled 2010’s.

Whether ‘simple’ village Bourgogne Blanc on a plot nearby Puligny-Montrachet or a old vine Meursault from Clos du Clomas, they wines were spot on and illuminating! My favorites of the bunch were:

Bourgogne Blanc Cuvee Oligocene–Taken from a plot nearby Puligny Montrachet, this gives all other Bourgogne a run for its money! Its higher limestone content allows for a little more new barrel (it can take it), the acid is simply soaring, and wet stones on the nose pair nicely with the accompaniment of white flowers that come afterwards.

Meursault les Tilliets– A plot between Meursault and Puligny that sees clay as well as limestone. A very classic presentation of candied lemon, apples and shimmering minerals, it gives this opulent region a more zesty edge. This is what I am talking about when I say I crave Meursault.

Puligny Montrachet– All elbows and knees right now as it awkwardly wrestle with my taste buds, but this ugly duckling is sure to blow many of its companions out of the water with a little bit of maturity. ‘Patience’, a term so many vignerons in this area use to explain their creations. An elegant swan is what I predict in 3-5 years time.

I felt bad spitting these wines out. At our other visits so far, I noticed that the winemaker had us pour it back in barrel or the bottle. So little is made. And Javellier is no exception. The only reason I don’t have it in Colorado is that production is so teeny tiny. Maybe they should start having people give their tastes back so Colorado can see some distribution!

Patrick Javillier’s lovely daughter Marion is also making her mark. Her focus is red wine. She has a couple plots in Savigny les Beaune. The two wines she poured were Les Grands Liards and 1er Cru Serpentieres. Though the former was going through a bit of an awkward stage trying to become something lovely, the latter was already there. Impressively charming wines from an equally charming creator.

We finished that day at Pavelot– a heralded producer in the region of Savigny les Beaune. Their winemaking ancestry can be traced to teh 17th century, but Luc Pavelot would say it goes further than that. On a mere 9 hecatares, they build up and fashion fragrant, fanciful wines of both red (66%) and whites (33%). We partook mostly of the former. I could give you detailed tasting notes and jargon galore. But you must be bored of this by now. No? Well, I am. I am more interested in the character of these wines–the timbre, the presence they imprint on my palate.

In short, I would describe these wines as herbal. Each and every wine we sampled carried the scent of bramble fruit, rosemary, pine and medicinal essences. They were incredibly complicated and varied.

It was here that I came to a revelation: Burgundy cannot be described at all. The differences between terroir is felt. On the tongue. Some nestle themselves in the middle. Other weave back and forth, a tug of war. Others sing on the sides. Yet others play the in the back field. And while it might be easy to say Gevrey-Chmabertain felt remarkably different from Santenay, even more illuminating was the fact that even those that were all from Savigny les Beaune, for instance, also sat on the tongue in a variety of ways.

So this is it! THIS is Burgundy. It was so eye-opening to me, yet not requiring sight whatsoever. On the palate, it is felt. That simple. Frickin’ Burgundy. What will I do with this incessantly paradoxal region. Here I am now calling it simple. Right.

My favorites from Pavelot (all 2010’s):

Aloxe-Corton Village– A well-woven cross-patch work of art, this is a balanced wine with  marked integrity. Classic example of the herbal-kissed bramble fruit I discussed.

Les Serpentieres 1er Cru-– A site that benefits from numerous exposures, this Pinot Noir is polite yet full of purpose. It takes the hallmark combination of Burgundian greatness (balance of mineral, fruit, acid, body, tannin and lightness) and somehow pulls it off.

Dominode 1er Cru– Though closed right now, it has secrets only time will reveal. Tightly wound up and desperate to talk, this wine makes you know you are sipping greatness. Without a doubt, a wine for the long haul of 15-20 years.

And so, that is that. While I would love to recommend places to eat, we did not try firsthand any that were noteworthy. We did, however, hear of many that we were just a little too budget-conscious to try, otherwise they were closed. Everyone is on holiday you see. But here’s the short list:

Ma Cuisine

Bar du Square 

Le Benaton

Chez Guy 

I also recommend you visit the Hospices de Beaune. A little touristy? Yes. But worth it? Certainly. For about 8 euros you get to experience the formative days of this historic auction.